It was pure coincidence that several months ago I bought a ticket for the London Philarmonic recital of three French composers at the Brighton Dome. The pieces were Pelleas et Melissande by Faure, a piano concerto in G Major and waltzes by Ravel and Debussy’s La Mer. The conductor Robin Ticciati, whom I saw earlier in the year conduct Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aud dem Serail at Glyndebourne, said at the start there would be a minute ‘s silence after the Faure for reflection on the Paris shootings and bombings. Even before that I reflected on those young music lovers going to the Bataclan for an American Jazz rock band, little imagining it might be their last day on earth and the ghastly compacted horror of it all. They were such soft, vulnerable targets.
Classical concerts might seem strange to the initiated. In a rock concert you stand up, dance, participate whereas in a classical music one you sit in silence. This is actually why I enjoy them . The Ravel waltzes did not engage me , similar to the way that you skim read a book you are not enjoying but alone with my thoughts I found this detachment uplifting. The earlier Faure was a beautiful work of orchestration for the play of the same name by Maurice Maeterlinck, the music become the better known and more durable. Debussy left his wife in 1905 for a rich banker’s daughter Emma Bardac. He was shunned by his friends. He left France and the family home and La Mer was finished 23 miles up the road at the Grand, Eastbourne. It’s an impressionist piece, a musical seascape. It’s rather bizarre that the great Teutonic conductor Herbert Von Karajan, whom you associate with Wagner, was such a fine conductor of this complex work and very Gallic work. Which brings me onto conductors. I have often wondered how much they actually contribute. The London Philharmonic is a first rate orchestra, the musicians must know the pieces well and have a music score before them. Watching them they seemed not to follow the conductor. Yet classical music interpretation and performance is conductor driven. For years Von Karajan presided over the Deutsche Philarmonic, here we all have heard of of conducting Knights Malcolm Sargent, Thomas Beecham and Adrian Boult, Arturo Toscanini is the father of modern conducting. Ask a non classical music lover to name a soloist he/she might stop at Daniel Barenboim. Yet are they no more than some form of theatrical performing interface? In his last days Otto Klemperer could hardly raise the baton but there he was revered conducting away in his wheelchair. Talking of soloists the young Swiss chinese pianist Louis Schwitzgebel played the Ravel Concerto. At 35 he has acquired an international reputation. While I admired his technique I found the interpretation cold and unmoving.
As I left my thoughts returned to the Bataclan. We all emerged in a slow moving queue through the doors, mainly aged people. It would be so easy for a Jihadist on a motorbike to mow us down with a Kalashnikov. What a world we live in when you entertain such gloomy thoughts after the peaceful quality of a classical music concert. ISIS would probably haul Debussy before some religious court and will never produce music of such quality for us to enjoy nearly 100 years on. Yet they brutalise the innocents of the country that did.